When Japan’s Departures walked away with the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film this past February, many industry watchers were caught off-guard. But watching Yojiro Takita’s quiet, moving film, it’s easy to see why Academy voters were so enchanted by it.

“Initially we had no idea how the film would be received,” Takita tells Metro. He admits that success in Japan and around the world has been more than encouraging. “We’re particularly happy about receiving audience awards at several festivals. We’re hoping that many more people will be able to see the film and enjoy it.”

In the film, a recently fired cellist packs up his young wife and moves back to his hometown, where the only job he can find is as an “encoffiner,” performing an age-old, little-known Japanese ceremony of preparing the recently deceased for burial. In the film and in real life, the career carries a certain amount of stigma, which Takita mined for drama.

“A certain degree of prejudice did exist prior to this film being released,” Takita says. “But I think with the success and popularity of this film, many people who had previously been afraid to look death in the eye have been starting to have the courage to confront it. And I’ve heard that due to a lot of the news about this occupation coming up in correlation to the film, many young people are now expressing interest and taking up this occupation.”

Even the broader themes of the film proved to be a challenge for the production team.

“In the process of developing the story, the fact that we deal with death weighed heavily on people’s minds,” Takita says.

But the film manages to mix in a very warm sense of humour, something Takita believes came naturally. “In life, the more serious you approach something, the more absurd and comical it sometimes becomes.”

• Departures opens in Toronto this Friday.

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